Brittany is a pop culture enthusiast! She loves writing about celebrities, TV shows, films, music, and more!
American Idol Season 1
It's hard to believe, but it's been 12 years since the first season of American Idol aired. The show premiered in June 2002 and featured a large group of amateur singers who were all competing for the title of "American Idol," as well as a recording deal with RCA Records.
Of course, season 1 of American Idol was won by Kelly Clarkson, who has gone on to much success. But what happened to the other finalists? What happened to the judges? And whatever happened to Brian Dunkleman?
I don't think I have to go on much about the success Kelly Clarkson has seen since winning American Idol. Ms. Clarkson (who is actually a Mrs. now) is one of the most successful Idol winners to date, in fact.
After winning the show, Clarkson went on to release her debut album, Thankful through RCA Records. She also starred in a musical with Idol runner-up Justin Guarini. Clarkson sought more creative control for her follow-up album (released in 2004), Breakaway, and was rewarded with several number-one hits ("Since U Been Gone" being the biggest) and a Grammy.
The latter half of the 2000s saw Clarkson release two more successful albums – My December and All I Ever Wanted (the latter being the more successful of the two). Clarkson's latest studio albums are 2011's Stronger and her Christmas CD, Wrapped in Red (2013).
2015 saw the release of her seventh studio album Piece by Piece, followed by Meaning of Life in 2017. Very recently she released her ninth studio album When Christmas Comes Around..., which is made up of Christmas song covers and some original, co-written songs.
Clarkson married her manager's son, Brandon Blackstock, and the two have one daughter together, River Rose, who was born in June 2014. However, they divorced in the summer of 2021.
Justin Guarini was the runner-up of season one, and he had quite a promising start after the show finished. Immediately after the season came to an end, Guarini also received a recording deal with RCA Records, and co-starred alongside Kelly Clarkson in the musical, From Justin: To Kelly. Unfortunately, both ventures were flops, as his self-titled debut album saw poor sales, and the movie was panned.
Guarini released an independent album, Stranger Things Have Happened in 2005, which was a compilation of jazz covers. He's also tried his hand at theatre and has done numerous stage roles – everything from RENT to Romeo and Juliet. Most recently, he starred in the Broadway musical, Wicked, playing Fiyero.
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In 2009, Guarini married his long-time girlfriend, Reina Capodici. The couple have two children together, both boys.
A Scene from From Justin: To Kelly
Though the movie was panned by critics, my 13-year-old self loved it!
The third-place finalist was the season's resident rocker, Nikki McKibbin. After being voted off Idol, McKibbin also received a record contract with RCA, but due to creative differences, never released an album. McKibbin released an album in 2007 (Unleashed), but it was never picked up by a major record label.
Sadly, in October 2020, McKibbin passed away after suffering from a brain aneurysm.
McKibbin leaves behind her son, Tristen Langley, who auditioned for the 13th season of American Idol. He was unfortunately cut before the live shows, but McKibbin was seen supporting him on the show anyway.
At one point, fourth place finalist, Tamyra Gray, was the favourite to win the entire season. Gray's big voice and moving performances did a lot to impress the judges, but she was ultimately voted off before she could claim the title.
Like the other finalists, Gray received a record deal immediately after leaving the show and was signed with 19 Records. She released her debut album, The Dreamer, in 2004, but it failed to see much success.
Since then, Gray has co-written a few songs, including Fantasia Barrino's (the winner of Season 3) hit song, "I Believe." She also wrote for Jessica Simpson's album, A Public Affair. Gray has tried her hand at acting as well, and has had small roles in TV shows like Boston Public and the film Rachel Getting Married. She's also had a few roles on Broadway, including playing the role of Mimi in RENT.
Gray married fellow musician, Sam Watters (from Color Me Badd), in 2006, and the two have one daughter together.
Tamyra's performance of "A House Is Not A Home" was one of the most talked about during the first season.
Rounding out the top 5 finalists is R.J. Helton. Helton was the sweet and sensitive R&B crooner of the season, and after leaving Idol, he went on to release a Christian-music album, titled "Real Life."
Helton is still releasing music via his MySpace page, but he's honestly been off the radar since Idol. He came out as gay in 2006 and has since supported AIDS charities, including the AIDS Walk in Atlanta.
The Other Top 10 Finalists
Christina Christian placed sixth on Idol. She now goes by Christina Cewe (she was married post-Idol) and has two children. She no longer performs music for a living, and instead has a corporate career; she's the Senior Account Manager of an IT company in Florida! She tweets about lots of work-related things on her Twitter.
The seventh-place spot belonged to Ryan Starr (real name, Tiffany Montgomery), who was the other "rocker chick" alongside Nikki McKibbin. Starr managed to stay in the limelight for a while after leaving Idol; she acted on That 70's Show and CSI, starred on the VH1 celebrity reality show, The Surreal Life, and released a few singles via her Myspace page. She had a child in 2012.
Jim Verraros (who placed 9th) was open about his sexuality as soon as he left the show, and went on to be an outspoken figure in the LGBT community. Verraros released the album Rollercoaster in 2005, and acted in several LGBT films, including Eating Out and Another Gay Sequel. He got married to his long-time partner in 2009, and currently calls himself a "bridal enthusiast" on his Twitter.
A.J. Gil was the youngest contestant during season 1 (he was only 17 when he auditioned). After Idol, Gil went to school for audio engineering. He's still making music now (mainly gospel and R&B) and frequently shares songs on his YouTube page.
Rounding out the top 10 is EJay Day. Since Idol, Day has sung several times for Muhammad Ali, co-written for Raven-Simone's second album, Unbreakable, and has performed on several Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
The Top 8 finalists perform a cover of "California Dreamin'" during the 1960s night episode.
Who could ever forget Simon Cowell? The tell-it-like-it-is Brit became world-famous after his American television debut on Idol. Cowell continued to judge on American Idol until 2010. He also acted as a judge on similar singing competitions like The X-Factor USA, and The X-Factor UK, which he still stars on. He also acts as the main judge on Britain's Got Talent.
Paula Abdul was known as the "nice" judge throughout her run on Idol. The former pop star stayed on Idol until 2009. She also judged alongside Cowell during the first season of the American version of The X-Factor, and currently acts as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, Australia.
C'mon, dawg! Randy Jackson was the judge that stayed with Idol for the longest; he actually remained on the show until 2013. Jackson still occasionally appears on the show as the in-house mentor, and he also hosts a Top 40 radio countdown. Jackson produced the hit MTV show, America's Best Dance Crew.
Only a hardcore Idol fan would remember Brian Dunkleman. He only co-hosted Idol for the first season, before quitting the show. After Idol, Dunkleman appeared on the VH1 reality show, Celebrity Fit Club, where his team won and he lost 15 pounds. Dunkleman has had a few small roles on shows like Friends (which was actually pre-Idol), and My Name Is Earl. He currently performs stand-up in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City.
Of course, everyone is familiar with the show's main host, Ryan Seacrest. Seacrest has remained on Idol since its debut and has had success in other aspects of his career, due to his high-profile hosting gig. Seacrest hosts his own radio show, "On Air With Ryan Seacrest", and annually hosts the New Year's Rockin' Even show. Seacrest also owns his own production company, Ryan Seacrest Productions, which produces several popular shows, including Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.
Obviously, on a show like American Idol, each year's cast changes at the end of the season, and we never get to see our favourite finalists share the stage together again. Kelly, Justin, Nikki, Tamyra and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways and though they can't be seen on TV together any more, fans of the show can still relive some of the best moments via YouTube, or even by purchasing merchandise on Amazon.com.
Maybe the Idol finalists will get together on the 15th anniversary and perform a reunion concert! We can only hope!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Brittany Brown
Shiela Gerona from Philippines on November 12, 2014:
You did well in making a full compilation of American Idol Season 1 top performers. I can still remember how Simone gives his comment after each performance made by them.